Saturday, December 22, 2007

Some Observations On Christmas Music

What is most insidious about Christmas is not its frantic and much-bemoaned 'commercialisation' - that has been going on since before I was born, and it's something I'm not too bothered by - but it's inescapability; Christmas music leaks into our private world, insinuates itself into our lives, whether we want it or not. Ostensibly public space is revealed as having been long-ago colonised by the forces of capital: no matter what shop you go to, or even if you wander into the town square or gardens, Christmas decorations, billboards, or Christmas songs heard over phone speakers (anywhere in the store at work), it invades our space whenever we leave the house, at any time before the big day itself. Witness the fact that we began playing a Christmas playlist in the middle of November: Christmas, in its diffused viral form - a composite of imagery and emotion mined from a massive history of sentimentality - spreads all over the latter quarter of the year, gradually infecting each part of the built environment.

It isn't the 'commercialisation' (as if it were that simple!) or the chronological spread (like particularly bad dryrot) of Christmas, but its overriding claims, the fact that it completely reprograms day-to-day reality for a month and a half, and not in a way I like. Not merely because I work in retail, and Christmas turns customers of every sort into psychopaths and idiots, but because it completely rearranges cultural time, to fill every available second with the worst of everything: I swear I haven't heard a single contemporary Christmas record this entire time, or, if I have, I wouldn't know about it - Christmas seems to bring out the worst in any artist or band, and automatically impose a template of boring trad instrumentation, sugary singing, flat sound and cookie-cutter sentiment. In fact, the only decent records I've heard at work recently were the new Roisin Murphy album, when we had no customers in, and The Pogues' 'Fairytale Of New York', which, rather than acting as the 'anti-Christmas anthem' it's claimed to be, simply chimes with the occasionally despairing ex-drunk in me, and lets loose those soaring, healing melodies. But what exactly does it say about our culture when every song playing over the speakers was recorded at least 20 years ago? Does Christmas simply reveal the state of total cultural stasis we're subject, or is it simply that the easily-translated sentimentality Christmas demands can only be gotten from music that milks so-called 'timeless' (read: old and ridiculous) feelings?

Bring on the bloody spring thaw, is all I can say. Merry Christmas to all End Times readers (yes, that's right, all two of you), and here's to hoping you survive the season alright. We'll be back shortly, with the first ever, labyrinthine, End Times Year End Round Up...


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